- Nancy Schafer
- 36 years old
- Co-Managing Director and Programmer, Tribeca Film Festival
- Grew-up in Washington D.C.; now lives on Upper West Side
Before Tribeca, you created the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. Can we discuss your involvement and its evolution into a premiere fest for indie film?
When I was hired by the South by Southwest Music Conference to start the Film Festival, I had no idea what I was doing. I was 23, and had been working as a volunteer at Telluride, as well as working on films, so I guess I had some idea about the utopian ideal of film festivals (ie: Telluride) but that actually didn’t translate into how to start a film festival in Austin, Texas, and what it should be. Luckily, my bosses at SXSW did know what they wanted and some had been to film school in Austin. So what I did in the early years was try to make all our combined visions for the Festival a reality. Like all new ventures, we all called up everyone we knew or had ever heard of and got them to help. The first years of SXSW would not have gotten off the ground without Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Bud Shrake, Bill Wittliff, Eagle Pennell and all the other people slogging it out day-to-day in the film industry there.
You've also produced your own films and worked in film production with notable indie film icons like John Sayles.
I got to know John Sayles and Maggie Renzi through my boss at SXSW who was friends with them. I met them on the set of Lone Star, and I was so nervous and impressed I didn’t stay long for fear I would make a fool of myself. I subsequently became better friends with them, and worked with them on Limbo and Sunshine State. Being on set with them is a magical experience, and a sharp contrast to many of the horror stories you hear about other directors.
How are Tribeca and SXSW, and by extension New York and Austin, different?
Tribeca is like SXSW on steroids. The vision is bigger, the budget is bigger, the city is bigger, and the event is bigger. Both Austin and New York are film hungry towns, which makes our job as programmers easier. Tribeca is more “premiere” driven than SXSW, though SXSW is becoming more that way now since my departure.
What has festival life taught you about producing, and do you have any desire to return to the production world ?
What I’ve learned about being a producer from working at film festivals is that being a producer is hard. Making great films is the most satisfying thing one can do in this business, but trying to get money for them is like banging your head against the wall. I was never that good at banging my head against a wall.
Has working with high profile founders made things easier, or does it just mean more George Whipple at parties?
More George Whipple for the founders, not for me! Of course having Robert De Niro backing you makes things easier. How could it not?
Much as Robert Redford is identified very closely with Sundance, how do you think Robert DeNiro's persona helps create the identity for Tribeca?
De Niro is very much involved with lower Manhattan and with the arts. Tribeca is very much a reflection of what is important to De Niro and (his producing and business partner) Jane Rosenthal: filmmakers, artists, and involving the creative communities of New York and lower Manhattan in particular are what’s important to them.
The festival has grown in size and duration every year with it expanding to 11 days next April? How has its reason and purpose evolved along with the expansion? What responsibility does TFF have to the NYC indie community?
The festival is adding two days this year, primarily just so that we don’t start in the middle of a weekend, -- that never made very much sense. So this year we will begin on Thursday, April 21 and continue through Sunday, May 1. We love supporting the New York film community, and have a section of films that compete for the best NY, NY feature at the Festival.
Every year there are articles about the problems at TFF and what's going wrong. Do you think there's some inherent bias within the industry and/or press against Tribeca?
I don’t think it’s that people don’t want us to succeed, its just that film industry people were a little skeptical about the new upstart downtown. I think everyone is over that by now.
Tribeca received a lot of praise last year for its new Tribeca All Access program to assist minority filmmakers. Will TAA continue as a sidebar or will it become even more integrated into the main festival?
Tribeca All Access is not a sidebar to the Festival. It was created by the Tribeca Film Institute, which is our non-profit year-round programming arm. The “Connects” program launched very successfully last year during the Festival, and will continue this year during the Festival. This year we are expanding the program to include screenwriters of color. The first film funded out of the program wrapped production on Friday, November 5. Tribeca All Access also runs other programs for artists of color during the year, including the Open Stage program, for playwrights of color.
It seems that every town now has a film . Are there too many?
There are a lot of film festivals. As one of the newest, I would never presume to say that there are too many. Each one fills a different purpose, or else they don’t succeed.
Given the non-stop vertical integration of the film industry with "indies" being anything but, what's your forecast for independent cinema?
I cannot begin to answer this question. First, we’d have to agree on what the term “independent” means. We could be here all night.
How many films would you actually estimate you watch per year, and does having to sit through that many affect your enjoyment of them as entertainment? Do you find yourself turning to other media instead?
I admit that I like Law & Order. Its formulaic, and I never have to wonder if Sam Waterston is going to show up in the second half. He is, I guarantee it! To get back to your question, I watch a lot of films every year. Hundreds.
With the major studio Oscar-release season just on the horizon, how do you feel 2004 has been so far for film?
To me, the season launches every year with (the Toronto Film Festival), and this year’s festival was a blast. There were so many films there that I can’t wait for everyone to see. Sideways, which is out now, and Palindromes (which also just played the New York Film Festival and will be distributed by Wellspring in April), are a couple of the American ones, plus there were lots of great films from overseas.
Nine Things to Know About Nancy:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
I try not to pick stuff up off the streets.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
Lately, Time Warner.
Gotham Madlib: When the _______ (noun) makes me feel _______ (adverb), I like to _______ (verb). (Strict adherence to "Madlib" rules is not required.)
When the job makes me feel underpaid and overworked, I like to drink red wine.
Personality Problem Solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
For those who know me, I’m definitely not hysterical. I do appreciate winter so that I can wear gloves.
NYC Confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
I’m in love with my hairdresser, strictly on a professional level. Isn’t that sort of queer?
How did you spend election night? How do you feel about the election results?
I spent the morning after wanting to burst into tears. There is something fundamentally wrong with this country.
Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
Never. What have you heard?
Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
I’ve only been here four years, give me a little time.
Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
The 2005 Tribeca Film Festival will run from April 21-May 1. For information on past festivals and further news about next year's fest as it's released, please visit www.tribecafilmfestival.org. If you're interested in in participating in the TAA Connects program during the 2005 festival, they submissions period is now open. For more information and to apply, please visit the web site.